Come On, ELCA. This Is Not a Good Start to Implementing “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action.”

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Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise him, for he is your health and salvation! Let all who hear now to his temple draw near, joining in glad adoration! (ELW, 858)

Why am I not happy with this post on yesterday’s Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? 

I’m glad you asked!

A little background:
Just 8 days ago, the ELCA put out a Summary of Actions taken at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on August 5-10. This was posted on the Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 15.

If you’re a member of the ELCA,
you really need to read it because A LOT happened at the assembly. 

You’ve probably heard about the decision to declare the ELCA a sanctuary church body. There’s been a lot of press and controversy about this. That was an historic action, to be sure. But wait, there’s more!

A New Social Statement
The third item on the Summary is:

  • Approved the social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action” and its 190716_womenandjusticeimplementing resolutions. The statement, in part, names patriarchy and sexism as sins and calls the church to action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, workplace discrimination and economic inequality.

With this addition, the ELCA now has 13 social statements. You can read about them here. I have a particular interest in this latest one. I’m part of a group of women who met together regularly to carefully read and discuss both drafts of the document. We were committed to ensuring that this statement would not become just another dust-collector on a shelf, that congregations would actually read it, discuss it, and put these guidelines into practice. We identified areas where we believed the statement needed to include specific actions to back up its intentions. We finally crafted 3 memorials that were passed at our Sierra Pacific Assembly and forwarded on to Churchwide. 

Memorial #1
We asked for a public statement of repentance for the sins of patriarchy and sexism, as well as establishment of a national day of confession and repentance for the sins of sexism and patriarchy.
Action:
Implementing Resolution #17 directs the ELCA Church Council to establish a process for public repentance regarding the sins of patriarchy and sexism and establish a churchwide day of confession and repentance no later than the 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Memorial #2
We asked for the development of training and resources for implementing the social statement. This memorial covered a range of topics, but a large part of our concern was the subject of language. Taking seriously the statement in the document “Words are powerful,” we requested e
ndorsement of an inclusive language Bible; non-gender-biased and inclusive materials for worship including hymnody, adult education, confirmation, and Sunday school; and the use of expansive language for God in worship resources.
Action:
Implementing Resolution #8 calls upon the Conference of Bishops, synods, and the churchwide organization to use gender-inclusive and expansive language for God, and to direct the ELCA worship team a) to use such language whenever it commissions, curates, or develops new liturgical and related educational resources, and (b) to supplement existing resources toward that end, and, (c) to explore the development of an inclusive language lectionary similar to the Psalter in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.” 

Memorial #3
We asked for a New Social Statement on Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Human Sexuality.
Action:
To request the Office of the Presiding Bishop provide materials to facilitate education among ELCA members so as to build awareness of the broad varieties of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation among God’s people, as well as to provide pastoral care insights regarding concerns and issues of the transgender experience and gender nonconformity; and
To request that the Church Council consider authorizing development of a social message on gender identity and gender expression. 

Going forward
All of this was adopted by the Assembly with 97% of the vote. There was very little discussion. I hope I’m wrong, but my concern is that with so much material to read and the number of resolutions and memorials, many voting members didn’t actually read the document. And if they did, I hope they’ll be willing to back it up if and when these issues come before their congregations. We will be closely monitoring implementation of actions by the Church Council and the Office of the Presiding Bishop. We are determined not to allow this important work to be ignored.

Why I said “Not a good start, ELCA.”
In my Facebook post yesterday in response to “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” I said,
“So much for inclusive/expansive language per Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action. Not a good start ELCA.”

Comments have been interesting. Only one in support. Others are more like these:
Perhaps God’s preferred pronouns are, He and Him!
It’s a classic hymn. You’re a bit over sensitive!!! Most classic hymns are from at least 200 years ago & translated to English.
Are you serious?? If so, why??!!!!

Here’s why:
The post on yesterday’s ELCA Facebook page includes two masculine names and three  male pronouns for God. Let me be very clear: I’m not calling for the elimination of Lord and King. Expansive language means just that; you don’t have to take away meaningful names, but you can add the many other ways that we can address the Holy One.

When it comes to the male pronouns, however, I am indeed calling for an end to their use. For far too long, protestations to the contrary, God has been identified as male. This is not an innocuous reality. Words matter. As the document says:

this church holds that exclusive use of a male-oriented formula to refer to God is problematic. The use of expansive language for God reflects faithfulness to God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures and in human experience. 

So, ELCA, I ask again: how was this post a good start to this new call to action? There must be another hymn that could have expressed a similar sentiment. Or – how about checking out a different version? Same tune as “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”

Sing praise to God, who has shaped and sustains all creation.
Sing praise, my soul, in profound and complete adoration.
Gladsome rejoice – organ and trumpet and voice –
joining God’s great congregation.

Praise God, our guardian, who lovingly offers correction,
Who, as on eagle’s wings, saves us from sinful dejection.
Have you observed, how we are always preserved
by God’s parental affection?

Sing praise to God, with sincere thanks for all your successes.
Merciful God ever loves to encourage and bless us.
Only conceive, what godly strength can achieve:
strength that would touch and caress us.

Sing praise, my soul, the great name of your high God commending.
All that have life and breath join you, there notes sweetly blending.
God is your light! Soul, ever keep this in sight:
amen, amen, never-ending.

I encourage every member of every congregation to read the social statement. Discuss it, even argue about it, as long as you do so with an open mind.
And implement it. It really does matter. 

 

2 thoughts on “Come On, ELCA. This Is Not a Good Start to Implementing “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action.”

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